Donald Trump calling for unity, eh? That’s like Ted Nugent calling for restraint, either in rhetoric or on lead guitar; or Harvey Weinstein calling for equal treatment of women; or the guy who painted that painting of Trump and Ronald Reagan playing poker demanding taste.
I’ve cringed in these last few hours to hear journalists on TV or radio discussing Trump’s appeal for magnanimity last night in Wisconsin as if we’re supposed to take it seriously. Are they kidding? Yes, they are words the president spoke, and so they have to be reported. But they don’t have to be discussed earnestly. They need and deserve to be discussed derisively and placed in the real-life context they merit.
We know nothing about who this bomber is and what motivated him or her to, it seems, send explosive devices to the Obamas, Clinton, Eric Holder, CNN, Maxine Waters, George Soros, Joe Biden and Robert DeNiro. There’s a chance it has nothing to do with Trump. Yes, there is. There’s even a chance that right-wingers are correct and this is a so-called “false flag” — a liberal ratfucking operation. We don’t know.
But here’s what we do know. Bombs or no bombs, Trump has sent our discourse into the toilet. He has spent years mocking people. Not two years or three years. Forty. It just didn’t matter back when he was a garden-variety arrogant rich guy.
But now it matters. He’s the president—an office he attained, of course, chiefly because there were unfortunately a lot of people out there willing to buy the poison he peddled about Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Muslims, Mexicans, Huma Abedin, Serge Kovaleski, Carly Fiorina (plus 15 other Republican presidential candidates), Megyn Kelly, Meryl Streep, Nikki Haley (look it up!), and roughly 461 other individuals or groups since he started running for president, according to a tally kept by The New York Times, which needless to say is itself among the 487 total.
And he has encouraged violence. Just days ago, he called Greg Gianforte, the Montana congressman who throttled a journalist, “my kind of guy.” And all the way down the slide, Republicans have gleefully followed. For them to try to play both-sideism here, and for anyone in the media to accept that at face value, is scandalous.
Wednesday night on Hardball, Chris Matthews had former Obama and Clinton aide Neera Tanden facing off against GOP strategist John Feehery to discuss our descent into this madness. Feehery brought up Rep. Steve Scalise, the GOP congressman who was shot at that congressional baseball game last year. What happened to Scalise was awful. But as Tanden pointed out, no one on the Democratic side had spent years saying that Steve Scalise hated America.
Trump has done those things, repeatedly, and so have other Republicans. It’s like they’ve all (okay, almost all) taken some kind of Trumpy fentanyl, and they’re hooked. Wednesday night at a Trump rally in Wisconsin, the crowd started chanting “Lock her up!” after Senate candidate Leah Vukmir mentioned Hillary’s name. This was the day after the bomb at the Clintons’ home had been discovered and the same day it was announced. Clinton could have died, a victim of domestic political terrorism.
In response to those chants, Vukmir just laughed. Fortunately, she is about to be beaten handily by Democratic incumbent Tammy Baldwin, making her a forgettable footnote in our political history. But you should remember her name, and if you ever see her in a restaurant, you would be within your moral rights to interrupt her meal to explain to her how pathetic her response to those chants truly was.
Here’s the bigger picture. Presidents are supposed to think ahead, think about how they’re using the prestige of the White House, of their position. Things can get very partisan in this country, and presidents can say things that walk right up to a certain rhetorical line.
But they’re supposed to carry around the idea in the back of their head that the day may come, for example, when America is attacked, or when a prominent figure from the other political side dies, or when his own side commits violence. Those are times when the president needs to try to be the president of all the people. Barack Obama didn’t have many fans in West Virginia in 2010 when 29 miners died in one of the worst disasters in decades. But he went down there and hugged every one of those widows.
He hadn’t spent years mocking the people of West Virginia on Twitter. But Donald Trump has done the equivalent of that, and a lot more. And those of us who are his political foes are supposed to accept, at moments like this, that he is the president of all the people? Sorry. We don’t, and we won’t. Imagine that one of these bombs had gone off, and imagine Trump trying to preside over that funeral. It would be an offense. What a tragically sad thing to say about the president of the United States.
He’s the president of some of the people, as he himself constantly goes out of his way to remind us. If that’s the way he wants it, that’s the way he’ll get it. The half of America for which he expresses regular contempt will not be shanghaied into enduring some ritual of “unity” when he calls for it, as he’s forced to spit out conciliatory words that he reads off a TelePrompTer and that leave a taste in his mouth like arsenic. We, in turn, still should respect the office of the presidency, but we’d be foolish to respect its present occupant.
So: Let’s wait to see what the FBI learns about this mad escapade and properly withhold judgment with regard to culpability. But even as we wait on that front, we are not barred from making certain claims about the atmosphere created by the man who hates half the country he governs.